An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
17 October, 2022

The goal here is to follow on the last post with bits and bobs of my thoughts and reflections on the new place that I’ve written since I moved in.  But first a couple of new thoughts.  Was up at Joschka’s tonight catching up on this Amazon Lord of the Rings Series.  It’s ok so far, but we’re only through five of the eight episodes.  Anyway, it was my first time coming home here from up there.  Foregoing any walk tonight, I took a tram from his pace to the subway and then took the train the rest of the way.  It’s been years since I waited on a subway platform for a train at 3:30am, but man it was refreshing.  Just felt right, you know?  Like, yeah, I remember this, this is normal, this is what living in a city is supposed to feel like.  In the future, I’ll likely skip the tram portion of the trip and just walk to the train.  For the walking, but also so I can enjoy a beer on the way…

I took a walk on a stretch of Sonnenallee today, and here I have an addendum to my previous post to add.  Whereas Hermanstraße is predominately Turkish, Sonnenallee seems to be predominately Arabic; the signs, the restaurants, the shops, the butchers and so on.  So it’s a bit of a different flavor.  I also passed by a ‘West African’ restaurant.  I didn’t get a look at the menu, but just seeing the food on the plates of the people seated outside…damn, it looked good.  I will be checking that out in the near future for sure. 

I mentioned that the Turkish market around the corner has a solid butcher counter in back.  But on Sonnenallee, I passed by a couple of full-on Halal butcher shops, one of which had a line out the door on a Saturday afternoon.  Not nearly as convenient, location-wise, but I’ll have to see what all the fuss is about.  I also want to do some research on the differences between Kosher and Halal.  Also curious if Halal is going to be more expensive, the way Kosher butchers are back home.  Could be worth it though.  I’ll keep y’all posted. 

Anyway, back to the first two weeks here in the new place…

30 September, 2022

Second night in the new place.  In my place.  I’m still wrapping my mind around that.  Tonight is not the night to ponder that, however.  I just got my desk set up.  Finally, a feeling of ‘home.’

The first night was rough.  I was exhausted, had been up for something like 35 hours straight.  Everything was all over the place, nothing had taken shape yet.  It didn’t feel like ‘home.’  Now it’s starting to.  Did a decent amount of work today in the living room.  I’m starting to develop a vision for it; and for the kitchen as well.  And not for nothing, I’m really digging the vision that’s developing.  Lots of work to do.  I’ll have to make some purchases as well of course.  Chief among them, a butcher block for the kitchen.

The kitchen is small.  Too small.  Not enough room for all my stuff.  Not enough room period, but not even enough to have the most key things ready at hand and within reach.  But that’s when it hit me.  At first glance, the kitchen in Chinatown was too small as well.  But then we got that butcher block.  And once that was in place, I fell in love with that kitchen.  A place for everything, and all I had to do was pivot for whatever I needed.  I’m gonna do that here.  And watch how the kitchen goes from too small to a dream in the blink of an eye.  Then the only thing I’ll need is a bigger fridge.  But that can wait. 

Futon has already been ordered, which will serve as a nice couch.  And together with the Sessel, I think it will make a for a really nice sitting area with guests.  I still need to figure out what I’m gonna do about a dining table (and chairs).  Not a rush, exactly.  And I’ll hardly need it when it’s just me and Charlotte.  But Anna and Rudi are coming later this month, and it sure would be nice to be able to host a dinner.  But for that, I’ll not only need the dining table and chairs, but the butcher block as well.  I can hardly cook in this kitchen the way it is. 

One thing I haven’t found a solution for yet, kitchen-wise, is how I’m gonna replace the pantry I’ve lost.  That was a wonderful thing to have, in that it allowed me to keep a ready supply of staples: various kinds of pastas, canned goods, etc.  Maybe the butcher block will solve that problem.  But if it doesn’t I’ll have to figure something out.  Maybe some shelving…

[Update, 10/16/22: The kitchen is now in good shape.  Still need the butcher block.  Still a crunch on storage space.  Still want a shelf so as to better organize my spices.  But as a work space, it’s more than adequate.  Lots of hooks for cooking utensils and more than enough counter space to work.  The (electric) stove gets very hot very fast, so as those things go, it’s great to work with.  I made my zucchini lasagna last night.  I cooked for Charlotte when she was here.  Yes, it can – and will – be more and better.  But already, I really like working in there].

I still gotta finish up cleaning out the old apartment.  Clearing it out and cleaning it up, the latter of which will require a bit of paint and spackle.  We’ll see how far I can get tomorrow.  But it must be done by Saturday, as I’m giving the keys back to the landlord on Sunday.

Lighting is another thing that will need attention here.  The necessary bulbs are in place such that I can do everything I need to do and not be in the dark.  But they suck.  I’d like to get some nice fixtures in place, certainly for the living room and my bedroom.  With such high ceilings, I’m thinking chandeliers.  I also need to get the internet sorted asap.  And I rather desperately want to replace the toilet.  I don’t know how much of this I’ll be able to deal with while C is here…

Back with the class today.  I’ll say it again and again, but I really like this bunch.  I held class from the old kitchen.  Set the computer up on the counter and stood the whole time.  Which was actually kinda nice.  I miss being on my feet for class.

This one woman was struggling today with conditionals.  Which is not unusual.  Conditionals are a bitch and I teach them hard and fast.  It’s a lot for even the most advanced students, and she’s not.  So at the very end, I made a point of praising her instincts, which are indeed quite good. 

But she’s like, “I always speak English with my friends, and now that I’m taking this class, I see how bad my English really is.”  Oh, honey, no.  Like, it’s super denglish-y.  But it’s not ‘bad.’  Indeed, she communicates quite well.  So I told her that her English is like a house that’s being renovated.  Yeah, you gotta rip out all the walls, redo the wiring and put up all new walls.  But the house is there, it’s standing and it’s a strong house.  I think she grokked the analogy and appreciated it.  (Which I guess is part of grokking; I’ve been reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land).

Anyway, when I got done saying what I had to say, I concluded with something like, “Alright, well listen, that’s all the nice things I really want to say to anybody for the rest of the day.  So don’t worry, when we see each other next week, I’ll be back to my usual self.”  At which point, one of the girls positively lit up with a big ol’ smile and said, “Yay, grumpy cat!”  Yeah, she calls me ‘grumpy cat’ sometimes.  Which, hey, if the coat (?) fits.  Clearly on some level, this student appreciates my vibe.  Am I using ‘vibe’ correctly?  I need to get chatting with some younger Americans if I’m ever gonna grok this new usage…

1 October, 2022

Some quick reflections before bed (it’s 4:30), because tomorrow is gonna suuuuuuck.  I don’t want to talk about it.  Not yet.  So, reflections.

Joschka is a champ.  We rented this big ol’ van, originally to help me move my studio over (I didn’t want to trust it to the movers), but in the end also to pick up this giant banana plant thing for his place.  But he drove that van like a boss, parked (illegally; twice) like a pro.  I would have been terrified.  He handled it with aplomb.  After all the running around, we went for dinner in my neighborhood, to some hipster joint.  Food was excellent, although right now it’s playing hell with my stomach.  I will be going back though.  I think I’d like to elaborate on this further at some point.

But something funny happened today in the course of those events which made me very happy.  Neukölln, my new ‘hood, is in the south of Berlin; his ‘hood of Prenzlauerberg is in the north, kinda straight north from me.  Both are within The Ring, that is to say, the confines of the Ring-Bahn, which is to say, within the confines of the city proper.  No more ‘outer borough’ shit for this guy!  

Anyway, I was explaining that after dinner, I needed to go back to the old place to do some more work.  And then I said, “So I’ll probably ride uptown with you.”  Did you catch that?  “Uptown”?  I no longer have to talk in terms of “going into the city.”  Now, when visiting Joschka, I can talk of going ‘uptown.’  And when I’m going home, I can talk of going ‘downtown.’  (Because of course I live downtown.  I am, and always have been, a downtown kinda guy).  And if I have cause to go to West Berlin, I can talk of going ‘crosstown.’ 

Now to be clear, words like ‘uptown,’ ‘downtown,’ ‘crosstown’ and ‘into the city’ are not words that anybody who actually lives here uses.  They’ll just say they’re going to such-and-such neighborhood.  “I’m going to Prenzelberg” or “I’m heading back to Neukölln” or “We’re going out in Bergman Kiez tonight.” 

But you know what they say.  You can take the boy outa New York but you can’t take New York outa the boy.  And even if I wind up living here for the rest of my life, I’ll always be a New Yorker at heart. 

The point is, it gave me such joy – joy unexpected and unlooked for – to be able to spontaneously, and accurately, say that I was going ‘uptown.’  I mean, that’s just how I orient myself.  For six years of outer-borough life, I was always going ‘into the city.’  Now, finally, I live in the city again.  I don’t wait for trains on an elevated platform, I wait underground.  And it just feels so right.   

And that’s the biggest thing right now.  Everything about living in this neighborhood just feels right.  The whole world is once again at my fingertips.  Joschka is a big fan too.  At dinner, he said, “I’m so glad there’s a ton of good restaurants in my neighborhood, otherwise I’d be feeling pretty jealous right now.”  Not that I would exult in a friend’s jealousy, mind you.  But the point is, I now live in a place where people would actually want to visit on the merits of the place itself, as opposed to schlepping out Nowheresville for my sake alone. 

I used to say, when I lived in Köpenick and Pankow, that when you live ‘outside the ring,’ you’re basically a second class citizen in this town.  For all sorts of reasons I won’t here get into.  But now I’m ‘inside the ring,’ and it’s wonderful.  For the first time, I feel like I live in Berlin instead of just ‘in Berlin.’  It’s a good place to be.

Tomorrow I have to mop and paint and clear out.  And to paint, I need to go to the hardware store to get paint.  And to clear out, I’ll almost certainly need to call a cab to get all the last of my stuff…downtown.  But I did a shit ton of work today, so hopefully tomorrow won’t be too bad.  If I finish early enough, I’ll see if I can get the keys back to the landlord tomorrow.  Otherwise Sunday, as planned.  But I’m so looking forward to being done with it all, being done with Pankow, to not ever going back there, save the odd time when I want to hit up my Indian spot.  Or, on the off chance that I should want to play a solo acoustic set at Anna’s café.

I should say a few words on that last account.  The other day, I made a point of stopping by the café to say goodbye and thank you to Anna, the owner, who gave us all those gigs.  She was always very kind and gracious with me, and always had free whiskey for me after the shows.  So it was important to me to thank her in person. 

When I went, she was sitting outside, just drinking coffee.  She saw me enter the courtyard and gave me a big smile, told me to sit down.  So I did, and said what I had to say.  And as always, she was very kind and gracious.  She even offered me some whiskey, which I gladly accepted; and wouldn’t let me pay for it.  We wound up chatting for a half hour or so.  In the course of which, she said I’m welcome any time to come do an acoustic set of my own music; she knows I have my own stuff. 

And hey, why not?  I tell you what I’d really like to do.  Next time Justin visits, I’d like to set up a show for the two of us.  I guess we’d mostly do my songs.  And we’d have to work out the arrangements.  But I think it would be a lot of fun if we both played guitar and both sang.  And if she’s offering, well, that’s just great, isn’t it?  That could be a lot of fun. 

And I do like her, btw.  I’d bump into her on the street sometimes, and we’d always have a brief little chat.  It was a nice thing because she’s a nice lady.  But it was also nice because it made me feel like a part of the neighborhood; not that I ever had any great love for it.  Even so, it was nice to walk around, bump into a local café owner that you know and exchange a few pleasantries.  Didn’t feel so much like a stranger. 

Well, that’s over.  And I won’t miss it.  Just, it was nice while it was.  I’m looking forward to checking out some of the local spots here, on my own.  There’s a few just on my block even.  I mentioned that to Joschka, and he was surprised.  Like, “Sure, Dave, you’re just gonna start going out now on your own.”  Hey, he knows me.  This isn’t really thing for me.  Or hasn’t been.  But, at least in Berlin, I’ve never lived in a place where that was really an option.  True, I wasn’t much for that in NY.  But either I’ve matured or NY was too expensive.  Or both.  But here now, in Neukölln, I don’t just want to live here.  I want to experience living here. 

And who knows, maybe I’ve learned something from Joschka.  OK, in point of fact, I’ve learned a great deal form Joschka, and that probably warrants its own post.  But I mean in this regard.  He’s always going out on his own, to his favorite joints.  Such that he often knows the owners or the chefs or the bartenders or the regulars.  He’s got his own little world in that regard.  And look, I’m not saying I’ll go that far.  But it might be cool to have a couple of local joints where I’m more than just some rando.  Plus, it would be good for my German, assuming they don’t try to talk to me in English; a distinct possibility in this part of town.

But maybe that’s a goal for this new year, i.e. the new Jewish year; L’shana Tovah btw.  To become a part of the fabric a) of my neighborhood, but also b) of the Jewish community I’ve met through Aikvele.  Local bars, cafés and restaurants on the one hand, shul and Moritz’ minyan on the other.  All while continuing to work on my music and making this apartment into a proper home.

Yes, I’ve been working on music all along.  Yes, I just taught myself the basics of Aramaic.  Yes, I have my regular Greek and Yiddish readings, my weekly Torah readings.  Yet somehow, I feel I’ve been terribly and unaccountably idle for way too long.  Perhaps this move will be just what I need to kick my ass into gear and get back out in the world. 

I mentioned this to Joschka; well not the part about shul, but the rest of it.  And he was like, “You?  I’ll believe it when I see it.”  Then a few minutes later, he was like, “Sorry, I’m not trying to discourage you.  I think it’s great.  Just, I know you.”  And he does.  Better than anybody at this point.  And he’s not wrong.  I’ll believe it when I see it too.  But I’ve got goals now.  Goals that go beyond studying in my bedroom or working in my studio.  And that feels good. 

2 October, 2022

Fuck, I’m exhausted.  So exhausted I shouldn’t even be writing.  But it’s such an unusual exhaustion, I feel I want to say something about it.  It’s now the end of Saturday, by which I mean 3am Sunday.  I haven’t had a nap since Tuesday.  Tuesday I had a midday nap, but then stayed up for some thirty to thirty-five hours straight for the move.  Every day since has been both work here and at the old place.  I’m still up til three or four every night.  Just without napping.  And it’s entirely distorted my sense of time. 

If we consider today properly Saturday, which I do, it means I only moved three days ago.  And yet it feels like aeons.  (You know, first I typed ‘eons.’  Then I decided I wanted to be a snob and use the Latinized spelling of the Greek word: ‘aeons.’  The spellchecker says it’s wrong.  It’s an odd feeling when you know you’ve gone one up on the machine).  It feels like aeons, I say, and not in that way where things have changed so much that it feels like another life.  Not in the way that so much has happened that it feels like another epoch.  It’s just, I’ve been constantly awake and constantly busy for these three days, it’s warped the hell out of everything.

The only proper leisure time I’ve had is when I get to write a bit before bed.  Unless you count the down time in the car with Linda or Joschka or the taxi today.  Linda shuttled me downtown with a bunch of my stuff on…well I truly don’t know whether it was Thursday or Friday.  Which day did Joschka and I do the studio and his plant?  Linda was first, that much I know.  So I guess it was Thursday with her. 

Actually, I took Linda for tea as a thank you for schlepping my ass downtown during rush hour.  So that was a bit of leisure time, I guess.  And it was nice.  Better than nice, we had a really good time.  Just talking and laughing.  She’s an interesting cat.  I wouldn’t say we’re close necessarily.  And yet, she’s a good friend.  Like, she’s a person you just know you can count on with no strings attached. 

We don’t have a ton in common, but like I said, we laugh a lot together.  And when you’ve got that, you really don’t need much else.  I try to be a good friend to her too.  I’m always on call when she needs help with English, which she does from time to time for school.  On call and no strings attached.  For background, she was my student back in the day, in the same class with Esma and Chris.  Her and Chris used to date actually.  Then they broke up and we haven’t yet gotten the whole band back together.  But I make a point of staying friends with the both of them. 

She’s fun to drive with.  Fun because she trash talks other drivers the whole time.  But like, not in an angry way.  She does it in a sweet way.  Yeah, sweet trash talk.  Like, “Komm, Schatzi, du schaffst das…ein klein Stück weiter…ein klein Stück weiter.”  (Come on, sweetheart, you can do it…just a bit further…just a bit further).  Or when somebody honked at her: “Hey, cool, du hast ne Hupe, ich hab auch ne Hupe!” (Hey, cool, you have a horn, I have a horn too!”).  It never ends and it’s always good for a laugh.

Plus, driving with her – talking with her in general – is good for my German.  First, because she uses a lot of slang.  But also, because she speaks a real, honest-to-god, East Berlin (working class) kind of German.  I actually really love her German.  Just the sound of it, the phonetics, the pronunciation.  Her kind of German is actually the version I most try to model my own after, sometimes intentionally, sometimes subconsciously.  The extent to which I succeed is up for debate, and obviously English and Yiddish exert their own considerable pull on my speech.  But her kind of German is exactly the kind of German I’m after.  So riding with her is great because I get to just listen and study.

I finally finished with the old apartment today, around six.  I hope it’s going to be OK with the landlord.  I think I did a decent job, painting what needed to be painted, mopping, deep clean of the bathroom and kitchen.  Who knows what he remembers, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s actually in better shape than when I got it.  At 2pm tomorrow, I give him the keys back and then it’s done, over, finished.  Close the book on Pankow and the last three years of my life.  And open the book for real on Neukölln. 

I took a taxi downtown, just because I still had so much stuff to carry.  Mostly just all my cleaning stuff, painting materials, and also my lamps that I used to light the place.  I never did install any proper fixtures.  And then, in the cab, I passed right the fuck out.  To the point that when we got here, I thought the guy hadn’t gone far enough down the block because I was looking at the wrong side of the street.

I need to get a candelabra for the wall, away from the window.  Because right now, the wind is blowing in directly on my candles and they’re burning down double time.  That won’t do. 

I did a lot of work in the kitchen today.  It’s coming together, but it’s still a shit-show.  Still lots to do.  I also started putting the studio together.  Everything is in place save the speakers and my larger monitor.  Nothing is wired though.  I need to get a power strip, because the studio is going to share an outlet with the ceiling light fixture.  So if I wired it up today, I’d be in the dark.  Of course, I can’t even get a power strip until Tuesday because tomorrow is Sunday (#Germany) and Monday is a holiday.  So Tuesday I gotta get a power strip.  But I also gotta pick up a new set of sheets for the bed and new pajamas.  The ones I have (of both) are full of holes.  I’d put off replacing them until after the move.  So now it’s time. 

I also need to get some tools.  Chief among them a drill, because I need shelves and I can’t hang anything in these walls without a drill.  It’s not sheetrock here, so you really gotta properly drill.  But, sooner than later, I also want to get one or two saws and sawhorses.  Because I’d really like to do some woodworking. 

On the subject of the butcher block, it turns out the previous guy had left behind a cutting board, quite large, quite thick.  So rather than buying something, I got it in my head today that I think I’d like to build a butcher block around said cutting board.  I think that could be a nice project.  And look, I have a cellar.  I can’t build a proper shop down there.  But I should start putting together a decent collection of tools.  The living room is big enough that I should be able to do most any projects in that space. 

This is an area where I really miss having Dad around.  Because it would be great if we could work on some of this stuff together.  As it is, I’ll be reaching out to him for advice and design ideas.  He’s got a better eye and feel for these things than I do.  And they’re coming for a long weekend in November – for his birthday actually – so who knows, maybe we’ll be able to do some work together while they’re here.  Last time I was home, we built a bookshelf together and that was one of the absolute highlights of that entire trip.

In the meantime, I’m gonna see if I can get Joschka down here Monday or Tuesday to help me hang a shelf in the kitchen which will serve as a spice rack.  Because right now, my drink cart is doing the job, and it’s really not up to it.  I’ve always said, my kitchen is a work space, just like the shop in the theatre at SLU back in the day.  I need to be able to reach for anything I need and grab it with my eyes closed.  If I have to rummage around twenty-odd spices looking for the garlic powder, I’m wasting my time.  I can’t be pushing the tarragon out of the way to be able to extract the soy sauce.  No, the kitchen is a scared space, a work space.  Like my studio or my desk.  Things need to have their proper place.  Davey needs shelving in the kitchen.

I ordered internet today.  Apparently nobody needs to come and set it up, which is a good thing.  No appointments, no waiting through a six-hour window for some clown to show up.  They mail me the router and I hook it up myself.  Hopefully it comes soon.

I finished unpacking the last of the boxes today, save for the ones with my dishes.  And that’s bc the previous guy left behind a bunch of dishes.  So I need to figure out which I’m going to use and what to do with the ones I don’t.  That’s not to say I’m done.  There’s shit lying around all over the damn place.  But the boxes are unpacked.  Tomorrow, I can move them to the cellar.  And then I’ll have a ton more free space.  Then it’ll be the job of finding a place for everything.  But it’s coming together nicely. 

And then, Charlotte comes on Wednesday.  It’s not ideal, in terms of how this place is going to be, to be receiving guests.  Hell, the futon won’t even arrive til Saturday.  But it should be good enough.  And she’s not high maintenance, so I’m sure it’ll be fine.  I’m looking forward to seeing her, to having her here, to showing her my place and my new ‘hood.  And I’m also curious to see if she’ll be able to use any of the Turkish she learned.  If so, that will be very cool.  I’m trying to think who we should see while she’s in. 

I’d say Joschka, but his (teenage) sister is visiting at the same time.  So we’ll see if we can swing that.  But I’d like for her to meet Esma.  And Philippe. 

I’m exhausted and writing this has been a real effort.  Not a mental effort; the brain seems to be working per usual.  But the physical act of typing.  Man, my fingers are not cooperating.  I’m constantly misspelling things; and when I’m not, I’m going super slow in an effort to be accurate.  I’m running on fumes.  Which means it’s probably time to call it quits…

4 October, 2022

So many impressions, so many thoughts, so much going on.  I feel a bit like Mike in Stranger: I can’t hope to process all this now so I need to file it away for grokking later.  Man, I have so many thoughts just on that book and now on Heinlein.  Let’s see when I can find time to write about that, shall we?

OK, so all the big work is done.  Or rather, the post-move big work.  Most things have now found a home.  All the boxes and packing stuff have been moved either to the cellar or the trash.  ‘Cellar’ is an interesting word.  I grew up using the word ‘basement.’  ‘Cellar’ was a word other families used.  But here in Berlin, ‘cellar’ seems more approps.  Partly because the German word is ‘Keller.’  But also, because in my own head, I’m developing a distinction for myself between the two English words.  A ‘basement,’ is a subterranean floor of a house, roughly matching the footprint thereof.  Whereas a ‘cellar’ refers to one’s allotted space in the basement of an apartment building.  So the building has a basement, but I store my stuff in the (or my) cellar.

I wired up the studio today.  Well, as wired as it can be without having electricity.  Will buy the necessary power strip tomorrow.  But I ran all the cables and tied them up in a neat and tidy way.  Gratifying in itself.  I also figured out how to make excellent use of the loft under which the studio is now built.  The loft itself is a welded steel frame overlaid with wooden boards.  What I’ve done, is to run a couple of curtain rods between several bars of the frame.  And to the curtain rods, I’ve attached some modified coat hangers, such that now my headphones are stowed hanging from the ceiling of the loft; likewise extra mic and guitar cables.  Personally, I find it to be not only an elegant solution, but an aesthetically pleasing one as well.  Indeed, I’m rather proud of it.

In point of fact, I’m rather proud of the whole setup.  Because I’ve made the entire under-loft area into a music room of sorts.  Next to the studio, I’ve set up a music stand and a guitar stand, along with a footrest.  So now I’ve got a permanent, and comfortable, setup to practice classical guitar again.  And again, I’ve done it in a way that I personally find quite aesthetically pleasing.  The lighting is ad-hoc for now, so that will need attention.  And I do want to do something to treat the walls for sound.  These things will happen.  But I’ve got my studio and a dedicated music space all set up and I’m really quite pleased with it.  With it and about it.

I’ve also found a temporary solution for the candles at my desk.  Since I no longer need the standing lamps I had at the old place, I returned them to their original packaging.  I then taped the two boxes together so that they function as a sort of tall, slender stand upon which I’ve set two green, empty gin bottles as candle holders.  Now out of the way of the window, they don’t smoke or burn too fast anymore, all while providing plenty of light.  It’s good enough for now.  The ultimate goal is to find an antique wall-mounted candelabra to hang in roughly the same spot, and to fix a mirror behind it.  That should serve quite well, and once again, should look quite nice when it’s all in place.

I’ve also got the kitchen more or less squared away.  I’ve done all I can do with it until such time as I’m able to build the butcher block I’ve got kicking around in my head.  But I’ve got a pretty neat workspace now, such that tonight, I was able to cook my first meal in this joint.  Brussels sprouts, zucchini and chicken breast with pasta in a white wine sauce, for those of you scoring at home.  I’m using every inch of space I’ve got in there, but I think I’m using it efficiently and effectively.  And I enjoyed working in there tonight.  So I’m feeling good about that too.

The way into the apartment: through the front door, there’s a tiny little hallway that leads to the apartment proper.  In German, this would be called a Flur; think of it as a sort of foyer.  On the end of it that connects to the apartment, I hung a little curtain.  Mostly to keep the light out in the mornings, but also to help just a tiny bit with insulation.  There’s no heat in there, so it will by default be the coldest part of the joint.  Hopefully the curtain will, if not act as proper insulation, at least help to cut down any kind of drafts that may occur.  And of course, I think it looks nice, adds to the overall aesthetic of the place.

As to that aesthetic, I haven’t hung any art as yet.  I suppose I’m waiting til the futon comes, which will help properly fill out the living room.  Then I’ll have a better idea of what my wall space is and what should go where.  But I’ve got quite a bit more wall space than in the old place, in the living room sure, but overall as well.  So I’m going to need more art.  I don’t know if I’ll swing it while C is here, but I need to get over to that place in Bergman Kiez I passed by with J&Z and pick up that art deco-y Tempelhof print (and get a frame for it).  And I’m hoping Justin will come through with some photography work for me as well.

In the old place, my room was small and dark.  Well, it wasn’t dark per se, but I kept it so.  Such that there was never any need to adorn the walls in there.  But here, my room is bigger and better lit.  So I’ll need to think about some artwork for in here as well.  But there’s no rush on that. 

One piece of art I want – probably for the living room – is a piece from Deb.  She does some pretty cool stuff and I think it would look great in there.  The only thing is, she don’t come cheap.  I believe her usual asking price is in the thousands.  I don’t mind the price, if I can swing it.  But I can’t swing it just yet.  I’m thinking next year.  We’ll see when and how I can make that happen.  But I like the idea of having some art made by my own artist friends in here.  I’ve already got two pieces from Anne; and I certainly wouldn’t mind another.  Add one from Deb to that, and hey, that would be pretty cool.

Just thinking about art now, when my folks visited Bayeux years ago, they brought me back a full-sized print of the Bayeux Tapestry.  Fully unfolded, it’s massive.  Maybe only eight or ten inches high, but long af.  Maybe there’s a way to ring that around the living room or something.  I’m gonna ask them to bring it when they come.

The biggest outstanding lack right now is internet.  I do feel a little hobbled not having wifi.  Not that I have time to be screwing around watching Netflix.  But I haven’t been able to do any of my admin stuff; invoices, paying bills, etc.  I haven’t been able to do any research or shopping for household stuff.  I haven’t’ been able to download any podcasts.  Haven’t been able to publish any blogue posts.  (The first/next post, I suspect, will just be a זאַמלונג of many of the impressions I’ve been putting down here).  And I’ll need to figure out a how to work until I’ve got internet.  Will I need to go to the school?  Can I bother Joschka to use his extra space that early in the morning?

So I’m feeling really good about this place.  What I’ve done with it so far, in just these few days, and my vision for it going forward.  I wonder if it will ever feel ‘done.’  There’s always something to do, to fix, to improve, to customize.  But maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe it keeps you energized and engaged.  But I like where things stand, at time of writing.

I’m not sure I’m totally ready to have guests just yet, but if there’s anybody I wouldn’t mind having with things as they are, it’s surely Charlotte, madame à l’arrache.  Easy going, low maintenance, she won’t mind that things aren’t quite complete.  But already I’m looking forward to hosting people.  I’ve still got to get a fold-away dining table sorted; the biggest impediment to a dinner party.  But soon, very soon, I’ll be inviting people over.  In a way I’d hoped to but never quite pulled off in the old place. 

Beyond the fact that the old place was out of the way, I had it set up with a sofa and a coffee table.  Comfortable enough for drinks, but not in any way ideal for sitting down to a meal.  To avoid falling into that trap again, I disposed of that sofa and coffee table (leftovers from the Köpenick roommates).  Jared and Josh have this really nice dining table where the wings fold down lengthwise, resulting in a long skinny piece that can easily be stowed.  My aim is to get something like that.  Then it’ll be regular dinner parties.  And not just my friends proper, but I’d like to extend it out to the Jewish group.  Wouldn’t it be something to host a Shabbos?

I know a lot of people are keen to get a look at the place; the place itself and what I’m doing with it.  Without wifi, I’m trying to watch my data, such that I haven’t sent any videos yet and only a scant few pictures.  But I’ve been keeping my folks, Justin and Joschka somewhat current.  In addition, and what’s been really nice, is keeping my Aunt Cookie in the loop.

When I lived in the city and had an hour-long walk home from work every day, I used to make a point of calling her every few weeks or so, just to chat.  I always enjoyed those talks.  But when I got to Berlin, I didn’t have those regular long walks anymore, to say nothing of the fact that using data to call the states for hours at a time would’ve gotten expensive in a hurry.  It’s another thing I’ve missed in coming here. 

But I’ve made a point of keeping her updated with this whole apartment saga.  Just texting updates and pictures, that sort of thing.  But she gets really excited about, is very enthusiastic and supportive.  I only get to see her now once a year, when I’m in.  So it’s been nice to have this point of contact.

Let me end with this thought.  In a lot of ways, the idea of ‘home’ is very much bound up with the idea of ‘comfort.’  Not just being physically comfortable, not just the creature comforts.  But the sort of comfort that reaches to your heart. 

There are four rooms in this apartment, none of them finished, none of them yet what they will be.  But four rooms, all the same – bedroom, living room, bathroom, kitchen.  And in each room, I’ve created a place of comfort for myself.  A place that feels like home, not just for my body but for my soul.

In the living room, I’ve got my music space.  Not just my studio stuffed into the corner of the kitchen anymore, but a proper dedicated space.  And a permanent setup to practice guitar, with plenty of elbow room and good acoustics.  A space I want to be in and a space I rejoice in looking at when I’m not.

In the kitchen, I’ve now got a proper work space.  This is important.  For me, there are few things as frustrating as going somewhere – a friend’s place, an AirBnB, whatever – and trying to cook in a kitchen that doesn’t meet your standards.  Like, “This is the sharpest knife you’ve got?”  Or, “What do you mean you don’t have a Dutch oven…how do you braise??”  The kitchen, like the studio, is a sacred workspace.  In both cases, if they’re not yet a בית־המקדש, they at least do yeoman’s work as a משכן.  The kitchen, the studio: קדש־הקדשים.

The bathroom.  Well, it’s a little silly to talk of it as a sacred space.  But, a place of home, of comfort?  Look, I’ve got a bathtub now.  I’ve taken two baths in the five days since I’ve moved in.  Maybe that’s just a creature comfort, οὐ περὶ πολὺ ποιείϲθαι.  But what a joy it is, after a long hard day of moving boxes and setting shit up to settle into a nice warm bath.  And over here, they’re big on these bath oils.  Shit to relax your muscles or aromatic shit to help if you’ve got a cold.  One does feel just a touch of royalty as one partakes of such a simple pleasure.

And then my room.  It needs the most work, is lacking the most furniture.  First and foremost, I need a new mattress.  The one I’ve got is just a piece of foam, to say nothing of the fact that it’s the one I inherited from Köpenick, and it was already second-hand when I got it there.  So the bed is no great place of comfort or repose as yet.  But the key thing is, I’ve got my desk set up.  I’ve got this computer in place so’s I can write.  And I’ve got my book stand adorned with my Chumash, a gift from Aunt Cookie, which she herself was gifted from Uncle Art.  So I’ve got my sacred workspace in here too, where I can write and learn Torah. 

Home.  Comfort.  Sanctuary.  And the sacred.   As a Jew, the term ‘holy trinity’ carries little weight with me.  And yet, in just five short days, I’ve built for myself my own sort of holy trinity in this new home.  A place to make music, a place to cook and a place to learn.  Really, is there anything else?  I mean, for a single feller, anyway.

I’m still exhausted, but it’s getting better.  I slept for a solid twelve hours last night; very much needed.  That was wonderful.  I’m starting to get back on track, starting to un-fuck the go-go-go of the last week.  Tomorrow (meaning properly today, but tomorrow when I wake up) will be Tuesday.  Lots of errands to run.  And then C comes on Wednesday.  So that will be a different sort of go-go-go.  But I’m looking forward to it.

16 October, 2022 (again)

OK, this was longer than usual.  Sorry.  But this seemed like the natural stopping point.  I suppose this will wind up being three posts, instead of the intended two.  I’ll pick up again with Charlotte’s arrival.  No spoilers, but we had a great time.  Big fucking surprise, I know.  Anyway, stay tuned for that…

זײַ געזונט

1 thought on “An American in Berlin

  1. So proud of you, David. You make my heart smile. Your joy comes through. I hear your happiness. You have been following your bliss for a long time. Now your bliss is saying: let’s slow down, let’s enjoy it. Everything is a work in progress. I 💜 U Aunt Cookie

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